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Rabies

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(continued)

How is rabies treated? continued...

In the U.S. and Canada, PEP has two parts, usually given at the same time:

  • A shot of human antibodies against rabies, called human rabies immunoglobulin (HRIG)
  • The rabies vaccination series

Some vaccines that aren't approved for use in the U.S. or Canada are used in developing countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) approves of these vaccines.4 But they may cause worse reactions than newer vaccines. If you are exposed to rabies outside of the U.S. or Canada and have any choice, request HDCV (human diploid cell vaccine), RVA (rabies vaccine, adsorbed), or PCEC (purified chick embryo cell culture). If these aren't available, it is better to accept one of the other vaccines than to get no vaccine at all. As soon as you can return home, ask your doctor about whether you should get any more vaccines.

What should you do if you think you have been exposed to rabies?

First, wash the animal bite, scratch, or open sore with soap and water. Then call your doctor and local health department right away. They can advise you on what to do next.

If you've been bitten by or exposed to an animal at low risk for having rabies, such as a pet, the animal will be captured and watched for signs of rabies. If there's a chance that the animal is rabid, you will start getting shots right away.

If you've been bitten by or exposed to an animal at high risk for having rabies, you will start getting shots right away. If possible, the animal will be watched for signs of rabies or will be killed for testing. If it turns out that the animal doesn't have rabies, you can stop the shots.

If an animal shows signs of rabies but can't be captured for testing, it often is assumed to be rabid.

How can you avoid rabies?

To avoid contact with the rabies virus:

  • Have pet dogs, cats, and ferrets vaccinated against rabies. (If you aren't the first owner of your pet, ask for a certificate of rabies vaccination. If no document exists, confirm with the pet's veterinarian that the pet got the vaccine.)
  • Avoid contact with stray dogs, especially in rural areas of countries where rabies is a risk.
  • Avoid contact with bats.
  • Never touch or try to pet or catch a wild animal. Teach children to avoid these animals.
  • Secure garbage and other items that attract animals.
  • Secure open areas of your home, such as pet doors, chimneys, unscreened windows, or any place that wild or stray animals could enter.
  • Never handle a dead animal. Avoid any contact with its brain tissue.

Preventive rabies vaccination(What is a PDF document?) may be recommended if you are at high risk of exposure because of your work or hobbies. It may also be recommended if you plan to travel in areas where rabies is a risk, such as parts of Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Contact your doctor or local public health department for more information.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 27, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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